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10 Places and the Words They Inspired

1. Buncombe County, North Carolina

Just before the U.S. House was set to vote on allowing Missouri into the Union in 1820, North Carolina Rep. Felix Walker requested a chance to speak. When his exhausted colleagues tried to cut him off, he told them that his speech wasn't actually for the House at all, but for his constituents in Buncombe County. It's unclear whether he was actually able to give the speech (in some versions of the story, he did; in others, he was cut off and simply had it printed in the newspaper), but the eventual text was nonsense to most observers and had little to do with the debate at hand. Soon, journalists and politicians were using the name of the county -- Buncombe -- to mean frivolous talk, a word that eventually evolved to "bunkum" and then "bunk."

2. The Maeander River

The Ancient Greeks named the river that runs through southwestern Turkey to the Aegean Sea the "Maeander River." Today it's known as the Buyuk Menderes River. But the original Greek name lives on in the English word "meander," or "to wander," after the river's many twists and turns.

3. Tuxedo Park, New York

The Tuxedo Park village in Orange County, New York, was home to a high society crowd around the turn of the 20th century, with names like Colgate, Astor and JP Morgan (even etiquette expert Emily Post spent time in Tuxedo Park and has been said to have based some of her work on the culture she saw there). But the town's biggest legacy is in the formal dinner jacket for men that bears its name. There are a number of stories about how the tail-less jacket became branded the "tuxedo," but they all boil down to the style being popularized in the town, then brought to the rest of New York.

4 and 5. Genoa, Italy, and Nimes, France

Genoa, Italy, became known for producing a certain type of cotton cloth. Sailors fond of the corduroy pants produced with the fabric named them after the city, calling them "jeans." The French would then attempt to recreate the fabric. They were unsuccessful, but one cloth made in the city of Nimes caught on for its similarities to the Genoa product. The new fabric would be called "Serge di Nimes," eventually shortened to just "denim."

6. Soli, Cilicia

Ancient Greeks looked down on the residents of Soli, one of their colonies in Cilicia, for speaking their own form of the Attic dialect. The Greeks would later begin to refer to a dialectical difference or error as "soloikizo" (the word shows up in Aristotle's "On Rhetoric"), leading to the English word "solecism" for a grammatical misuse. "Between you and I" and "irregardless" would be English examples of solecisms.

7. The Isle of Lesbos

Lesbos island in the Aegean Sea was home to the Greek poet Sappho, whose work centered on love and beauty applying to both genders. It was her writing about women that led to her island's name being associated with homosexuality and by 1890, the word "lesbian" was appearing in medical dictionaries to describe a relationship between two women. The island has now become a popular gay tourist spot, despite attempts by natives to dispel the reputation; three residents even went to court seeking to ban the use of the word to describe gay women, although the suit was thrown out in 2008.

8. Paisley, Scotland

The teardrop- (or mango-) shaped design known as paisley has a long history of use in Indian culture, both on jewelry and in textiles. When traders from India in the 17th century began bringing back Indian products, the design became very popular and some European producers started incorporating it into their work. Production eventually became largely centered around the town of Paisley in Scotland, where by 1800 several weavers were making scarves adorned with the pattern -- and lending it its Western name.

9. Bikini Atoll

The Bikini Atoll, a group of 23 islands in the Marshall Islands, was best known as a nuclear bomb testing ground, home to some 23 tests between 1946 and 1958. It was that reputation that led to French automotive engineer Louis Reard to borrow the islands' name for his two-piece swimsuit. When he first produced the suit for a French clothing firm, legend has it he named it the "bikini" because the impact it would have on men would mirror the force of an atomic bomb.

10. Bengal, India

The name of the quintessentially California house -- the one-storied bungalow –- is actually derived from Hindi. The word comes from the Hindi word “Bangla,” meaning literally “of Bengal” in reference to the then-Indian province. The word eventually came to refer to the houses that were typical of the region and was brought into English as “bungalow.”

Buncombe County picture by Flickr user HappyMac; Paisley picture by Flickr.com user Cheesy42

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15 Ways to Avoid Saying 'Death'

People make up ridiculous, circuitous, preposterous terms when they’re afraid to discuss something—and death is near the top of anyone’s list of fears. Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf’s Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceitful Language is a terrific new dictionary of verbal evasions covering many subjects, including dozens of ways to avoid saying reaper-related words. As Beard and Cerf show, sometimes we’ll say anything to avoid the d-word.

1. arbitrary deprivation of life

This whopper comes from the State Department in 1984. It buries assassination—specifically assassination by so-called friendly governments—in jargon. The lifelessness of the phrasing is unintentionally appropriate.

2. terminal episode

This one is kinda sorta honest: the word terminal is at least in the ballpark of death. But there’s still something antiseptic about terminal episode, a term for death, especially one in a hospital. I’m reminded of another great death-related idiom that’s half-euphemistic: terminate with extreme prejudice. That’s a strongly worded assassination order that you might remember from Apocalypse Now.

3. attrit

To attrit is to kill. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this back to 1915 and a Daily Mail use: “Our Ministers talk of ending this war by ‘attrition.’ Who is being ‘attrited’ by these slovenly methods?” On the other hand, if you’ve been attritioned, you’re a bit better off: you’ve only been fired, a topic that is another lightning rod for euphemisms.

4. dynamically address

This term comes from the U.S. Army’s Task Force ODIN, who struggled with insurgents for control of Iraq’s roads. Needless to say, when ODIN dynamically addressed a situation, it resulted in casualties on the other side.

5. expectant

An earlier U.S. war gave us this term: in the Vietnam era, expectants were civilians expected to die.

6. sent on a trip to Belize

On a much lighter note, this term was used on Breaking Bad by the character Saul Goodman, who was trying to find a polite way to ask meth cooker Walter White if Walt’s brother-in-law Hank needed to be whacked. (Ah, whacked. Of course that’s also a euphemism for killing—one popularized by mob movies and The Sopranos.)

7. immediate permanent incapacitation

This term for death has a rather specific use: it appeared in a U.S. Army document about the impact and use of nuclear weapons. Whatever the cause, immediate permanent incapacitation is not recommended by doctors, with the exception of Dr. Doom.

8. game management

This sounds like the kind of careful supervision any game, contest, or sport requires. Nope. It’s a term for the mass killing of animals, either through hunting (itself a euphemism) or other slaughter.

9. go to Switzerland

There are plenty of reasons to literally go to Switzerland—but this sense is more metaphorical, as it involves seeking assisted suicide. The term is derived from the fact that it’s easier to get such end-of-life help in Switzerland.

10. self-injurious behavior incident

The Jargon Gods smiled and perhaps shuddered when the U.S Department of Defense came up with this term for suicide attempts at Guantanamo.

11. depopulation

When seven million chickens were euthanized in 1983 to prevent the spread of disease, the U.S. government needed a word to make this chicken-pocalypse sound less awful. So they settled on depopulation, a sterile term with a long history. Depopulation has referred to, as the OED puts it, “laying waste, devastation, ravaging, pillaging” since the 1400s.

12. diagnostic misadventure of high magnitude

Here’s another one from the medical world. While this sounds a little like hype for the latest summer movie—Diagnostic Misadventure of High Magnitude! Starring The Rock!—it actually applies to a specific sort of demise: when a patient dies during an exam due to malpractice. If the death occurred during treatment, it would be a therapeutic misadventure.

13. neutralize

This OED shows this term going back to at least 1937, in a (London) Times article: “A mechanized advance-guard battery was shown going into action in support of attacking infantry and attempting to neutralize an area.” If the meaning isn’t exactly clear, a 1970 report about Vietnam is more explicit: “The Phoenix program had resulted in some 15,000 VCI, meaning Vietcong infrastructure, or cadre, being ‘neutralized’ in 1968.” Neutralized = killed.

14. sacrificed

Lab rats—and lab monkeys, lab cats, and other lab critters—who die while being experimented on are said to be sacrificed. I guess this one isn’t totally deceitful. A scientist sacrificing a macaque for knowledge and a Satanist sacrificing a goat for the lord of the underworld are, in a way, doing the same thing.

15. health alteration

Here’s a euphemistic wonder. Technically, a health alternation could be almost anything, from catching a cold to dropping a few pounds. Alas, this is actually another term for assassination coined in the 1960s by the CIA. Let’s just say you wanted to stay off the radar of the health alteration committee.

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Getty Images
27 Cowboy Slang Terms for Things You Eat and Drink
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Getty Images

If your bread wallet is empty and you need to line the flue, knight the ribbons and mosey to a beanery. Your cookie-pusher will know what you mean when you order any of these 27 cowboy food and drink items.

1. Bear Sign: Doughnuts
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2. Overland trout: Bacon
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3. Blue John: Skimmed milk
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4. Boggy-top: A pie with no top crust
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5. Cackleberries: Eggs
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6. Charlie Taylor: A butter substitute made of sorghum or syrup mixed with fat. It wasn't good, and apparently neither was Charlie Taylor, who was terrible enough to lend his name to the unpopular trail staple.

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7. Hen-fruit Stir and Long Sweetenin': Pancakes and molasses
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8. Horse Thief Special / Spotted Pup: Rice or tapioca pudding with raisins
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9. Hot Rock / Sinker / Doughgods: Biscuits
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10. Huckdummy: Biscuits with raisins
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11. Love Apples: Canned tomatoes
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12. Music Roots: Sweet potatoes
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13. Mysteries: Sausage of any variety, so-called because that's what they're made of
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14. Bee-sweetenin’: Honey
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15. Pecos Strawberries / Mexican Strawberries / Whistle Berries: Beans
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16. Roastineer: To "roast an ear" of corn over the fire while still in its husk
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17. Salt Horse: Corned beef
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18. Saltwater Vegetables: Oysters or clams
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19. Sipper / Texas Butter: Gravy
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20. Skunk eggs: Onion
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21. Son-of-a-gun Stew (or if there are no womenfolk present, Son-of-a-bitch Stew): Stew made of whatever is available and the organs of a recently-slaughtered calf. So-called because the son-of-a-gun young cattle can't keep up on the trail.
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22. Wasp Nest: Bread

And don’t forget to order a drink!

23. Six-shooter Skink / Float a Horseshoe / Arbuckle's / Brown Gargle / Jamoka: Coffee
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24. Belly Wash / Soda Pop / Black Water: Really weak coffee
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25. John Barleycorn / Purge / Hop Juice: Beer
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26. Nose Paint / Pop Skull / Prairie Dew / Rebel Soldier / Red Eye / Snake Pizen / Tarantula Juice / Tongue Oil / Tonsil Paint / Tornado Juice / Busthead / Bottled Courage / Family Disturbance / Gut Warmer / Kansas Sheep Dip: Whiskey
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27. And a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser is a boilermaker and his helper.

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We'd need a book to list them all -- what's your favorite cowboy food slang?

Collected from Legends of America's Old West Slang Dictionary and Westopedia: The Language and Lore of Real America by Win Blevins

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